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are passages in Tuck™s writings in which he takes a position essentially the
same as the one just discussed in Skinner. For example, in The Rights of
War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius
to Kant (1999) he asks whether ˜the long tradition of political thought
which has been the subject of this book is of relevance to us any more?™
His answer is as follows: ˜This tradition is the richest tradition we have for
thinking about human freedom. It was historically contingent, and is as a
consequence precarious À it presupposes a kind of agent whom we would
not now much like to encounter. But it is important that we are clear
about what autonomy meant in the days when it became a central virtue,
so that we can also be clear about what we may be losing in our own
time™.29 He is not recommending (although he gives his readers and
27
Skinner 1998, pp. 117À18, n. 29, referring to Davidson 1984, pp. 125À39, 183À98. Skinner 2002a,
p. 29, also endorses Davidson™s view that ˜unless we begin by assuming that the holding of true
beliefs constitutes the norm among the peoples we study, we shall find ourselves unable to
identify what they believe. If too many of their beliefs prove to be false, our capacity to give an
account of the subject matter of those beliefs will begin to be undermined. Once this starts to
happen, we shall find ourselves unable even to describe what we hope to explain. The
implication, as Davidson himself puts it, is that ˜˜if we want to understand others, we must
count them right in most matters™™™. Skinner does have substantial disagreements with
Davidson: see Skinner 2002a, pp. 47, 131, 139.
28
Skinner™s discussions of Reinhardt Koselleck and the Begriffsgeschichte school (e.g. Skinner
2002a, pp. 175À87) are also relevant here.
29
Tuck 1999, p. 234.
274 richard e. flathman
conversational partners reason to think that he may be doing so) the kind
of agential autonomy he has recovered but, in Skinner™s terms, he thinks
we can better ruminate concerning our own affairs if we have a clear
understanding of it.
In partial contrast, in Philosophy and Government, 1572À1651 (1993),30
Tuck reports his and James Tully™s thinking in the following terms: ˜Tully
and I have discussed our work together ever since we were graduate
students together in Cambridge, and despite our many differences of
opinion and emphasis, we share two beliefs about how the history of
political thought should be written. One of them [generically the same
as the beliefs of Skinner and Pocock but perhaps with differences con-
cerning, say, language, meaning(s) and intentions] is that to understand
the political theories of any period we need to be historians, and we have
been very keen to depict as far as possible the character of the actual life
which those theorists were leading, and the specific political questions
which engaged their attention. But the other is that a study of the
reactions to these questions should not be purely a piece of historical
writing. It should also be a contribution to our understanding of how
people might cope with broadly similar issues in our time. The point of
studying the seventeenth century, for both of us, is that many of the
conflicts which marked its politics are also to be found in some form in
the late twentieth century; and, indeed, the better our historical sense of
what those conflicts were, the more often they seem to resemble modern
ones™.31
This is of course not to deny that historical studies may have the value
claimed for them by Skinner and by Tuck himself in The Rights of War
and Peace. Indeed recovering the tradition studied in the latter book is
likely to have that and only that value for present thinking. That tradition
was ˜contingent™ and ˜as a consequence precarious™; if, as Tuck seems to be
saying, it has largely disappeared, it does not ˜broadly resemble™ the
politics of our own time and recovering it will be valuable to our present
thinking and acting primarily because it helps us to see ˜what we may be
losing in our time™. Presumably the modes of thought and action that
emerged in the seventeenth century were also contingent and could have
disappeared. Also presumably, the politics of the twentieth and twenty-
first centuries were contingent, and could have been different. Thus the
claim that studying the seventeenth century will help people of the

30 31
Tuck 1993. Tuck 1993, pp. xiÀxii.
Reflections Concerning Political Theory 275
twentieth and twenty-first centuries to cope with their conflicts depends
on a conjunction of two contingencies, both of which must be
understood.
On the view Tuck advances in Philosophy and Government, the study of
what Oakeshott terms the ˜historical™ past and the ˜practical past™
converge. Of course this is not to say that the distinction is invalidated or
becomes useless. There not only can be but have been quite ˜pure™
examples of both modes of study and reflection. When other students
assess Tuck™s account of the seventeenth century they will properly do so
by the criteria of the historical not the practical past. If they find the
account convincing they can (if they are so disposed) ask themselves
whether he also makes good on his claim that the politics of the three
centuries resemble one another broadly enough to say that studying the
earlier one helps us to cope with the conflicts of the later ones. As we have
already seen, Tuck is confident on both counts. Here is how the book
ends: ˜The descriptions of modern politics we find both in the ragion di
stato writers and in Grotius and Hobbes, with standing armies paid for
out of taxation, with self-protective and potentially expansionist states,
and with citizens very unsure of the moral principles they should live by,
looks like an accurate description of a world still recognisable to us™.32
Can we also say that here, and perhaps also in those aspects of
Skinner™s thinking discussed above, there is a convergence between the
study of the history of political thought and political theory? Of course
Tuck is making empirical claims about major characteristics of twentieth-
and twenty-first-century politics. These can be viewed as historical claims
about recent politics (a history of recent political developments), or as
political scientific claims about them. But the claims are at a high level of
both conceptual and empirical generalization. Much the same is true
about Skinner™s analyses of beliefs and intentions, claims that are not
restricted to particular here™s and now™s or then™s and there™s. Given the
emphasis that both thinkers place on contingency and the constancy of
change, it would clearly be going too far to treat these as claims about the
always and everywhere. But both present critical assessments of prevalent
political and related concepts, ideas and practices. Do they attempt
to imagine political ideals that would, if accepted, lead to a politics that
is improved by normative standards? This too would be going too far,
at least as regards the texts here discussed. Skinner does not ˜imagine™
(although an element of ˜imagining™ may be unavoidable here)
32
Tuck 1993, p. 348.
276 richard e. flathman
neo-Roman and liberal conceptions of liberty; he recovers the former
and says that the latter is not only dominant but effectively without rivals
in modern thinking and practicing. And Tuck recovers the sceptical,
neo-Stoic configuration about which he teaches us. But Skinner effects
a juxtaposition between the two conceptions of liberty and argues that
we can think (˜ruminate™) better about both if we think about them
together. Tuck effects an alignment or convergence between seventeenth-
and twentieth- and twenty-first-century politics and argues that we
can think better about the latter if we give informed and considered
attention to the former.
It is clear that these elements of their thinking are not fully congruent
with the conception of political theory that I sketched above. Skinner is
not recommending either the liberal or neo-Roman conceptions, he is not
arguing more than that awareness of them will help us to think better
about both. Similarly Tuck is recommending attention to seventeenth-
century thinking only as an aid to thinking about twentieth- and twenty-
first-century politics. Thus we cannot say that either is advancing an ideal
which, if adopted and acted upon, would improve our politics by
normative standards. But the conception of political theory that I
sketched is an idealized conception. As with the two conceptions of the
study/writing of the history of political theory, and as with Oakeshott™s
distinctions, the conception can be useful not only in identifying ˜pure™
examples of political theorizing but also in distinguishing some elements
in a theory that allow us to say that it is, in part, an example of political
theorizing. My suggestion is no more than that the features of the texts
of Skinner and Tuck discussed in this section warrant that identification.
A further, and final, identification is supplied by John Pocock. In a
recent essay, he has distinguished ˜history™ from what he calls ˜histori-
osophy™. ˜History™ is a name for events and processes that may be said to
have happened and can be narrated and interpreted, possibly as still going
on. By contrast, for historiosophers ˜history™ denotes a condition in which
processes go on, and which may be (in part?) discussed independently of
the narrative of what these processes have been. ˜Historiosophy™ is instead
˜the attempt to make history a source of knowledge and wisdom™.
Histororiosophy is close to what I have identified as political theory and
thus we might say that the features of Skinner™s and Tuck™s text that
I have singled out should be regarded as historiosophical.33

33
Pocock 2004.
Reflections Concerning Political Theory 277
v
To bring this primarily taxonomic chapter to a close I borrow once more
from Wittgenstein. We can think of the three main modes of inquiry and
reflection I have discussed À political theorizing, the canonical study of
the history of political theory and the contextual study of the history of
political theory (Oakeshott™s distinctions cross-cut but do not conflict
with these distinctions) À as Wittgensteinian ˜language games™. As
Wittgenstein uses this term of art, language games are characterized by a
more or less integrated web or gestalt of concepts, ideas, beliefs, inten-
tions, rules and more or less rule-governed practices, all of these having
a public as distinct from a logically private character. Language games
form wholes that for many purposes can be and usually are understood
and ˜played™ by their participants as related to but distinguishable from
other games. Every language game, however, even those such as logic and
mathematics, are also characterized by a greater or lesser degree of ˜open
texture™, that is by respects in which the explicit rules as well as the less
clearly formulated conventions and norms of thought and action do not
entirely determine what should be thought, said or otherwise done in this
or that circumstance. Practiced participants in (players of ) the games are
˜guided™ by the rules and conventions, but at the bottom of the language
games is the thoughts and actions of the participants. Moreover and
particularly relevant here, along with recognizing the open texture of all
games, Wittgenstein speaks of situations in which we are ˜as it were
between the games™.34
There are rules and conventions À we might call them commonly
understood and frequently satisfied expectations À among those who
play the three language games in question and hence we can identify clear
examples of the playing of each of them; and these rules and conventions
also serve as criteria for assessing plays of the games. We are, however,
sometimes ˜between the games™ and find ourselves either drawn to more
than one designation of this or that performance and more than one
criterion of assessment of the performances we are considering or
uncertain as to which designation is the most perspicuous. This seems to
me to be the situation that obtains as regards political theory and the
study of the history of political theory. For the reasons given in the course
of the chapter, it is not a situation to be regretted.

34
Wittgenstein 1958, p. 188e (ii.ix).
Afterword
Quentin Skinner




One of the distinctive strengths of this book is that its contributors
approach the topic of early-modern British political thought from the
perspective not merely of political theory but of history and imagina-
tive literature as well. I cannot hope to summarize their individual
contributions here, but there is fortunately no need to do so, for they
are all written with unfailing lucidity as well as outstanding scholarship.
Instead I want to say something about the adjectives I have just employed
in speaking of the volume as a whole À early-modern, British and
political. My aim will be to tug on three corresponding threads that seem
to me to run throughout the book.
First, British. John Morrill™s principal purpose is to insist on the need
to concentrate on the history specifically of British political thought. It is
not perhaps surprising to find an historian of what used to be called the
English revolution placing so much emphasis on what Tim Harris at the
start of his chapter nicely calls the Britannic turn. One of the most
valuable developments in the historiography of the civil war period
during the past generation has undoubtedly been the reconsideration
of the Scottish and Irish elements in the narrative. From being
assigned mere walk-on parts in a basically English drama, the uprising
in Scotland and the Irish rebellion have come to be discussed in such a
way as to reconfigure the entire revolutionary era as a war of the three
kingdoms.
One might still wonder if every important question in our chosen
period needs to have a British dimension found for it. Is it necessarily
˜breathtakingly blinkered™, as Professor Morrill exclaims, to answer in the
negative? It seems to me that the chapters by Colin Kidd, Nicholas Canny
and especially Tim Harris all give grounds for suggesting that Professor
Morrill™s objections may be somewhat exaggerated. Professor Kidd™s
chapter not only addresses ˜the matter of Britain™ from a specifically
Scottish standpoint, but acknowledges that England at all times occupied
278
Afterword 279
a predominant position in the debates. So too with Professor Canny™s
chapter, perhaps the most striking feature of which is his implicit
rejection of ˜Britain™ as an appropriate unit of analysis. The political
discourse he examines was not only exclusively Irish in provenance,
but was written in part in Gaelic rather than in the English language.
Furthermore, insofar as Professor Canny sees the sources of this dis-
course as lying outside the geographical boundaries of Ireland, he finds
the main influences in a tradition rooted not in Britain but in continental
Europe.
Professor Harris engages even more directly with the problems À
definitional as well as historical À thrown up by the demand for a
specifically British history. He illustrates the resulting difficulties from
an examination of the desperately fraught period between the Exclusion
crisis and the constitutional settlement of 1688. As he begins by
conceding, there is certainly a case for saying that much of the political
theory of those years revolved around British rather than English issues,
and that the importance of this consideration remained masked until
recently by traditional ways of approaching the subject. However, he is
surely right to sense a danger that the privileging of the British dimension
may have a procrustean effect. On the one hand, the most illuminating
perspective to adopt will sometimes be a much broader one. As he rightly
notes, discussions about the right of deposition generally called on
natural-law arguments that not only stemmed in large part from
continental sources but claimed a universal applicability. And on the
other hand, some of the questions at issue À as Professor Harris shows in
the case of the debate between Charles Leslie and William King À were
strictly local in character. He concludes, very reasonably, that the question
as to whether it makes sense to speak in purely British terms will depend
on what questions we want to ask. The further moral I should want to
draw is that no possible harm can inherently come from concentrating
on Scottish or Irish (or indeed English) themes. If we choose to do so, we
must of course ensure that no wider implications are thereby neglected;
but if we respect that obvious caution, there will be no good reason
to impugn our resulting studies as blinkered or (a graver accusation)
as unfashionable.
Let me now turn from British to political. A number of literary scholars
in the present volume express some doubts about the concept of ˜political
thought™, interrogating the category in two contrasting ways. First of all
they remind us, perhaps even warn us, that imaginative literature is
seldom directly concerned with the adoption of political stances and the
280 quentin skinner
articulation of discursive arguments. It is true that the chapters on the

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